The Summer League for Lonzo Ball was a very interesting experience for many Lakers fans. Starting with a rocky opening game, Lonzo underwhelmed fans who expected him to live up to his hype in his first game. He was able to quickly turn his game around very quickly, however, quieting a lot of doubters around him.
He ended Summer League averaging 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 1 block. His performance after his first game earned him a deserved Summer League MVP and gives Laker fans a peek into what he might be able to do.
Lonzo did not wait to show off the passing skill and IQ that he has been praised for leading up to the draft. Watching him find open teammates throughout the game was mesmerizing to watch and it is no surprise that he was able to rack up assists on assists every game. Here, Lonzo reads the back screen set for an Ingram cut to the basket, and he delivers a perfectly placed lob pass for Ingram to catch.
Lonzo continually fed his teammates around him for very easy baskets. In this case, he reads his defender’s momentum moving towards him, so he blows by his defender and drops a pass off to Zubac who is waiting on the block for an eventual reverse lay-in.
Some passes are so tough that it appears Lonzo isn’t capable, but his vision shouldn’t be doubted. On this play, Demetrius Jackson attempts to drive Lonzo away from the Zubac high ball screen and Lonzo does a good job attacking the big who is out of position to the basket, effectively sucking the defense into the paint. The pass that most players would make would be Kuzma in the corner, but Josh Hart’s man went over to anticipate the pass to Kuzma. For Lonzo to look at his first read to Kuzma and then quickly hook a pass to the correct read to Hart while in mid-air is absolutely ridiculous snap judgement.
Pushing the Pace
One immediate impact Lonzo had on the team and will most likely have on the team in the regular season is the blistering pace at which he commanded the offense. The opposing team’s defense had to constantly transition from offense to defense seamlessly or Lonzo was able to find ways to push the ball up and hit his teammates in stride. Even on plays after made baskets where almost no one expects a full court pass to Kuzma, Lonzo can pass the ball when his teammates go behind defenders.
Constantly enforcing this pace does three main things: puts constant pressure on the defense, increases the chance of easy transition baskets, and gives the opportunity for mismatches. These seem like some simple concepts, but pushing the pace like Lonzo does is undeniably impactful throughout the games. A great example of this is here, where simply pushing the ball up to Hart indirectly sets Kuzma up for a wide open three-point attempt. Giving this quick outlet pass here puts the defense into scramble mode and as Hart drives to the basket, he attracts four defenders, leaving a three point shooter open on the perimeter.
Lonzo was able to improve on his three point shooting as Summer League went on, and his poor shooting percentages in the opening games should not be much of a worry going forward. He had a few bad misses on three point attempts, but he presented a great sample size at UCLA to not rush to any judgement. Sadly, Lonzo wasn’t able to be involved in much off-ball action because he was the primary ball-handler. Some off-ball actions that Lonzo came off of at UCLA were called for other perimeter players, so we weren’t able to see him take many spot up attempts unless they were kick outs to him after a rebound or drive.
Although his shooting was shaky, defenses still continued to give his shot respect and continued to close out, almost never closing out short to him. Lonzo doesn’t have a great first step, but he does a very good job of reading a defender’s momentum and positioning when the defense closes out to him. The defense, in this case, is forcing him to the baseline and he puts up a nifty lay-up with odd timing to negate the help defense.
Attacking the basket
Lonzo was at his best when he looked to be aggressive and was willing to attack defenses. He primarily attacked defenses in transition and he showcased his impressive top speed . Here, he is able to freeze his defender by doing a quick hesitation move and takes an acrobatic lay-up in traffic.
His ability to attack isn’t limited to transition. As long as the offense allows him to gather momentum prior to the action, such as this hand off on some Pistol action, he is able to attack the basket at the high level that he is going to need. He does a great job turning the corner and capping it off with another great acrobatic finish.
Don’t expect him to be a great shot creator from a stand-still right now, as he still needs some polishing for his dribble moves and his drives are limited to 70% line drives into the paint. He is capable of breaking down defenders at times, but Ball is far away from being able to create space at an elite level.
Pick and Roll
Lonzo was able to show promise distributing in the pick and roll, despite not running the action much in UCLA. He was particularly better at hitting the screener for open shots when they pop out for three-point shots (Brook Lopez should be celebrating right now). But that is not to say he can’t hit the rolling big man. Here, he hits Thomas Bryant on the roll when the defense chooses to commit to him on the pick and roll.
When it comes to attacking on the pick and roll, there is still some work for Lonzo to do. He is great at recognizing if the roll man’s defender is out of position to contain drives to the basket, or rather, blown coverage.
The problem for Lonzo here returns to his ability to create his own shot. The ability to attack the big man or his man recovering after the ball screen leaves much to be desired. There are also close to no clips of the defense switching on Lonzo pick and rolls since they usually go under, so we were not able to see Lonzo attack switches, an area of his game that he somewhat struggled with in college.
Defense and Defensive IQ
Going into the draft, Lonzo was touted as a bad defensive player, which is only partially correct. Lonzo still has some obstacles to get over in terms of isolated on-ball defense, but this defense was not as bad as many were trying to show. However, he still needs some strength training and some defensive experience to perfect his defensive positioning and stance.
In this clip, Lonzo is most likely anticipating either a pass or a ball screen, and positions himself accordingly, but this allows Felder to take the drive to the basket. He does a good job recovering to Felder, but gets blown by a second time by overcompensating on his recovery. He has shown a good defensive motor, but still needs some experience to become an above average defender.
What makes up for some of his on-ball defensive woes is his defensive IQ. His 2.5 steals per game isn’t something to ignore, as Lonzo was able to sniff out certain plays and uses active hands to swipe at the ball on incoming drives, whether they are from his assignments or helping some else’s. Here, he is able to poke the ball from behind a player in the high post safely because his line of vision is away from Lonzo.
However, his tendency to over-help and to anticipate certain plays can be to his own detriment, such as this play where he gets caught watching the ball, presumably to help, but gives up a wide open back door lay-in.
Pick and Roll Defense
I gave this it’s own separate section because some of his defensive possessions may be misleading here. The common scheme to defend the pick and roll was to ICE the ball handler, or simply force the ball handler away from screens, and it had mixed success. The times where the offense scored off the pick and roll while defending this way wasn’t always Lonzo’s fault. Here is an example of ICE defense defending a pick and roll close to perfectly.
And here is an example of ICE defense that fails because of the big man’s positioning. Lonzo did what he needed to do in order to force the ball handler away from the ball screen, but Dozier did not stay to contain the ball handler, leaving a wide open lane for him to drive.
However, this defense is weak against teams that screen with good shooters, or a good ball handler that is comfortable taking contested mid-range jumpers. So, the next most common coverage for Lonzo was to go over the screen, which he had a lot more trouble with. Lonzo had a little trouble doing his work before accepting the screen, such as positioning his feet in order to go over the screen comfortably. Lonzo going over screens looks like this at its worst:
Although, yes, this is Summer League, Lonzo has shown a lot of promise in his game. There are a lot of skills that will be easily transitioned into the normal NBA season and it was able to quiet a lot of doubters for now. There are areas that he will need to improve on, as is true for other prospects, but it was great to see Lonzo perform well in his first games in a Laker uniform.